Without Mohamed Salah

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 19 Mar 2024

Egypt’s new coach Hossam Hassan will have to do without the Liverpool superstar in his first game at the helm

Egypt s team and new coach Hossam Hassan
Egypt s team and new coach Hossam Hassan

 

Under the reins of a new coach, Egypt will play in a four-country football tournament but without their biggest global star Mohamed Salah, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani.

The tournament, the Winsunited Cup which will feature the national teams of Egypt, New Zealand, Croatia, and Tunisia, takes place from 22 to 26 March.

On 22 March Egypt will face New Zealand and Tunisia will take on Croatia.

The losers will compete in a third-place match on 25 March and the winners will compete for the trophy on 26 March.

The tournament was originally set to be held in the United Arab Emirates, however, due to sponsorship issues, the tournament was moved to Egypt on short notice after the participating national federations were consulted.

The friendly cup will serve as preparation for Egypt and Tunisia ahead of resuming their World Cup qualifiers in June. Egypt’s upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers are against Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau in the third and fourth rounds of the qualifiers. Egypt won their first two matches.

The tournament will also act as preparation for Croatia for Euro 2024.

In February’s world rankings, Croatia was No 10 in the world, Egypt 36, Tunisia 41, and New Zealand 103.

Salah, Egypt’s Liverpool talisman, will not be playing in the tournament following an extraordinary week in which his club and Egypt’s new managers publicly played out a highly contentious tug of war for the player.

Egypt’s new coach Hossam Hassan and his twin brother Ibrahim, who acts as the team’s director, had initially called up Salah for the Winsunited Cup. However, Liverpool told the Egyptian Football Association that it would be better if Salah did not play in the tournament, citing his hamstring injury in last month’s Africa Cup of Nations. The club said Salah was not 100 per cent fit and feared his participation would slow down his full recovery.

But Ibrahim Hassan was having none of it, insisting that only the national team staff could determine who plays and who doesn’t while stating they will ensure every player’s safety. “In case of any player getting injured, the coaching and medical staff will decide on their status after their presence in the camp, and after that we will coordinate with their club,” Ibrahim Hassan said in a statement.

After days of back-and-forth messages and statements and counter-statements, the stalemate was finally broken after Hossam Hassan said that both Salah and his club requested the player’s exclusion to prioritise his recovery from injury.

“Salah’s exclusion from the final squad came after a request from the player and his club, as he prefers to focus on his recovery and train with Liverpool,” Hossam Hassan said during a press conference on 10 March.

He said the Egyptian Football Association received the joint request to exclude Salah from the March camp.

“Salah is an invaluable asset to the national team, and his presence in the squad adds considerable strength to the Pharaohs. We had hoped for his participation,” Hossam Hassan said.

But the question remains why Salah is not playing in the friendly after he played in the quarter-finals of the Liverpool-Manchester United FA CUP clash on 17 March in which United won 4-3 and in which Salah scored. Though out of the FA Cup, Liverpool are neck and neck with Manchester City and Arsenal in the fight for the Premier League title and are on course to win the Europa League. 

Hassan, 57, replaced Portuguese coach Rui Vitoria who was fired on 4 February for failing to take Egypt, the record seven-time champions of the Africa Cup of Nations, past the round of 16. The 2022 finalists failed to win a game in the 34th edition of the tournament in Cote d’Ivoire and were knocked out by DR Congo in a penalty shootout.

Hossam Hassan is Egypt’s all-time top scorer with 69 goals. He is also 16th in the world with 170 international caps.

Hassan has managed several Egyptian clubs but only one national team, Jordan in 2013, leading them through a historic 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign before losing in the final stage against Uruguay in the AFC–CONMEBOL play-off.

The twins are known for their fiery temper and have had several run-ins with their own players, opposing players, journalists, referees, and fans.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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